Hello friends! Michelle, the Graceful Yogi and a fellow teacher trainee of mine was kind enough to provide a post in my absence! Lucky you guys get some tips from an expert teacher and student with an abundance of experience with inversions. I had the honor of photographing her at Gasworks Park in Seattle this summer, and can’t wait to share more from the shoot with you!
Handstands and inversions in general have always been a problem for me. I’m not sure if it’s self trust, or just fear of having my hips over my shoulders, but I’ll elaborate that in a future post.
I’ve studied friends in inversions carefully and taken various workshops to try to get over the wall, but I can’t seem to shake the heaviness that I feel when I try them. Even jumping forward, I can’t seem to shake the fear of putting the weight of my body into my hands. I excel at low-to-the-ground arm balances, but when it comes to throwing my limbs in the air, it feels exhausting and out of reach.
Handstand Therapy:1. Get on all fours and push down into your hands as you lift your belly up. Gently lift the knees off the ground and hover, challenging the arms and core. Lower the knees and repeat 5-10 times.2. In Down Dog, walk your feet forward 6-12 inches, press into your hands, and keep your collarbones spread. Then walk your feet back. Repeat five times, keeping your hands fully pressed into the floor the whole time.3. For Down Dog on the wall, first come into a Down Dog with your heels touching the wall. Walk your feet up, ideally at a 90-degree angle. With your neck relaxed and arms pressed straight, roll your biceps in and pull your front ribs and low belly toward your back. Hold 15 seconds, increasing the duration to progress. You’ll likely shake, but this means you’re truly building the strength that you need to hold a handstand off the wall.4. In standing split, keep your top leg at a 90-degree angle, with your toes facing the floor. Cobra the spine forward, gazing out slightly. Press down into your hands, lift your belly up, and lightly press your bottom foot down to push off. Do not kick your top leg. Focus on pressing down into your hands to get off the ground.Handstands are fun, and are great for the body and the brain. So go and play!
Viparita = turned around, reversed, inverted
Karani = doing, making, action
The pose described here is a passive, supported variation of the Shoulderstand-like without the risk to your neck.
Step by step:
Getting Into Legs Up the Wall Pose:
Lie on the floor near a wall and practice deep, steady breathing. Exhale and swing your legs up onto the wall so that your heels and sitting bones are supported against it. If you have any discomfort in your lower back, adjust your body slightly back from the wall so that your sitting bones are not touching it. Rest your head on the mat or floor, keeping your spine straight, and bend your knees a little so your kneecaps won’t lock.
When using support- If you have any lower back pain, support your body by placing a yoga block or folded blankets on the ground beneath your back. When positioning your support, you must consider its height and its distance from the wall. If you are not very flexible, your support should be lower to the ground and farther from the wall. If you are flexible, keep your support higher and closer to the wall. Keep a gentle arc in your torso from the pubis to the top of the shoulders.
If your neck feels strained, place a small, rolled-up towel under it.
Release the weight of your belly toward the back of the pelvis, deeply into the torso. Soften the eyes and turn them down towards your heart. After you come out of this restorative pose, be sure to lie on your side for a few breaths before sitting upright with your back against the wall, then slowly rising to your feet.
Awesome Benefits of Viparita Karani:
Reversing Gravity. The restorative nature of this posture gets blood flowing to parts of the body that need it, making it good for most any ailment including arthritis, high or low blood pressure, respiratory ailments, and menopause.
Go downtown. Alleviates menstrual cramps! For those of you lacking ovaries, this is also good for your little swimmers- it helps testicular and semen problems.
Feet. Relieves sore feet, legs, and ankles. Unlike sitting, which keeps the blood stagnant in your feet and partially cut off by your bent knees, this pose gets 100% weight off your feet to give them some relief.
Inversions calm anxiety. This is an extremely relaxing pose. No matter what’s going on, if I throw my legs up the wall and give my brain some much needed blood flow, I feel better. More benefits of inversions here.
I prescribe this pose to everyone I know. Whether it’s headaches, sore feet and legs, anxiety, Viparita Karani is soothing and symptom free. Best of all- it gives you a time out from your day to just be.
Since the past few weeks have been dominated by discussion of power moves and invigorating flows, I decided to select an asana that just feels damn good.
I love plow. I love how it’s normally towards the end of a class so you can tell you’ve crossed the desert and are almost to the promised land of savasana.
There are so many good things going on here:
Jalandhara bandha. Also known as the chin lock, which stimulates your thyroid and metabolism as you press your chin to your chest.
Spine therapy. An amazing, elongating stretch through your back and spine as gravity opens you up.
Inversion. The benefits of inversions are amazing from increased circulation to feeling sharper mentally. A post about them here!
I like to bring my hands to my toes at first, breathe and relax into it. Then I bring my arms to my sides and bind my hands behind my body; compressing my neck to my chest like crazy. A step by step guide to plow pose here.
Watch it. Women on their mentrual cycles should not do plow pose. I don’t know why, I’ve just been told this by many teachers. Anyone know why?
Uttanita: to stretch or open your perspective by looking at something in a new way.
The simplest way for me to think of the benefits of inversions is to think of gravity. All day we walk around on our two feet, our hearts pumping blood upwards to our brain. It sounds like a lot of work. In college I would spend hours a day sitting in front of a computer and feel completely useless and stale after about 3pm. When we go upside in poses such as headstand, handstand, shoulder stand, down dog and plow, fresh oxygenated blood runs to our head and rejuvenates us. This weekend I took an inversions workshop at Haute Yoga Queen Anne and learned all about the benefits of turning your perspective upside down.
My favorite benefits of inversions:
Can reduce shrinking. Most people will lose from 1/2 inch – 2 inches in height during their lifetime because of thinning discs. An active inversion program can help maintain more of your original height by keeping the discs in your spine supple. I am only 5’2″ I can’t afford to lose any of that.
Improve balance and body awareness. Inversion helps to develop balance awareness, which occurs when the upper regions of the inner ear are stimulated.
Strengthens the core. Core strength is necessary to stabilize yourself upside down. Practicing inversions force you to engage your core so you don’t topple over, which gives you a six pack, which in turn makes you look like a bad ass. WIN.
Enhances ability to concentrate and remain focused. Inversions help increase oxygen flow to the brain, which consumes 25 percent of the body’s oxygen intake. Working on headstands and handstands builds up those focus and concentration muscles. My fear of falling in class keeps my focus in check in tri-pod headstand. Practicing focus and concentration on your mat will train your brain to stay engaged when it wants to wander.